Copyright Michael Karbo, Denmark, Europe.

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    Chapter 24. Colour programs

    Many cameras have a great variety of different program options with names like sepia, vivid colours, black/white, etc. You can also select different values for colour satuation, etc., and finally all of it can be saved in various user programs.

    The camera adjusts the colours

    All the options mentioned cover different forms for colour adjustment, which can be made by the camera’s image computer.

    They are adjustments that you can, in principle, also make with programs like Adobe Photoshop Elements and others. But instead of processing the image files yourself, you can choose to let the camera provide the effects already while taking the photographs.

    Purely technically we get all these options because the camera’s image computer has to, in any case, adapt the ”raw” image data to produce a good colour photograph. All colour images are, in fact, rather artificial, as they are created in the image computer. It is, you see, the camera’s software that determines the colours. And this gives us part of the reason shy colours can be so different from one camera to another.

    Figur 92. The colour program Chrome colors produced exposures with more saturated (powerful) colours. Here as a menu option in a camera from Fujifilm.

    Figur 93. The colour program Sepia produces a completely unique atmosphere in the images.

    Colour programs

    If we flick through the camera’s menu system, we will often meet recording programs that alter the colours in images.  They are:

  • Vivid colours and neutral colours

  • Sepia

  • Black/white (B&W)

    You can normally select these effects in the menu system. They work as alternative recording programs, where the colours are different to those, we see in the normal recording programs (Auto, P, S, Av etc.).

    A program such as vivid colours gives a bigger saturation of colours. They become a little more powerful and more intense. The program has a good effect, if you are recording in “dull” lighting conditions, where images usually become greyish.

    Some cameras have a colour program called neutral colours; which does the opposite, the colour saturation is decreased here.

    Sepia and black/white

    The camera can take black/white images, and images with a lovely golden colour called Sepia. Some cameras supply a black/white program, which is purely black/white – i.e. without grey tones. Other cameras take fine grey tone images.

    Sepia colouring gives a unique atmosphere to the image, which is coloured with a golden brown tone.

    It’s easy to process a colour photo in an image program and achieve the same sort of black/white/grey scale and sepia-toned effects. On the other hand you cannot reproduce a colour image from grey tones or sepia colours. So if you use one of the effects you can play safe by making a colour version of the same subject.

    Figur 94. The colour programs in an Olympus camera. Please note the programs WHITE BOARD and BLACK BOARD, which are meant for the photography of whiteboards and blackboards.

    Figur 95. It is a good idea to use the black/white program, when photographing old books. This will give a more precise and sharper reproduction of the grey tones in the text.

    Text documents that are photographed can be processed in OCR programs so that the text can be fetched into a text-processing program such as Word.

    Advanced colour settings

    A camera can have a handful of other settings, which can alter the image’s colours. They are probably meant for the more advanced photographer, who has a good sense for, how the colours should look and who knows precisely what the exposure is to be used for.

    You can, for example, select a colour space. This is a specification, which is used to define the colours of an image, which is to be processed in different sorts of computer equipment.

    For an amateur the differences are rather small, but the colours of an image are altered a little, when you change the colour space. Many cameras have two colour spaces to choose between:


    Standard colour space for use in a computer, developed by Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft.


    Colour space used by professionals typically in connection with the program Photoshop.


    Here is an example of different menu choices for effects, which all can adapt the image computers processing of ”raw” data (not to be confused with the RAW files).


    This image is from Minolta A1. Here you can choose between the colour spaces sRGB and Adobe RGB. They are choices for the more advanced photographer.


    A camera from Fujifilm has a menu, where the user can choose between three grades of sharpness.


    This Nikon menu makes it possible to adjust the exposure’s contrast.


    In this Canon menu you can choose a setting for contrast, sharpness and colour saturation.


    It is very much a matter of taste, how much sharpness and contrast is required for a successful image. It is the camera’s image computer, which determines how much sharpness and contrast, the individual image should have.

    An image computer can be compared with a chef in a kitchen. It receives the ”raw ingredients” (raw pixels from the image sensor), which are processed into served up meals (colour images). It is all done with the use of a particular “recipe”.  How the colours precisely appear is highly dependent on the recipe. Ingredients such as sharpness and contrast can be compared with the salt and pepper a chef can dose the recipe with according to his own taste.

    The photographer can also take part in choosing the colours’ ”recipe”. You can yourself select how much sharpness and contrast, you want in your photographs. The degree of sharpness and contrast can be regulated directly with the help of the menu system.

    The kitchen analogy also applies in connection with the image qualities such as colour saturation and colour space: They are image qualities that can be altered during processing in the image computer – dependent on which recipe has been selected. Scene modes also use particular recipes for colours. 

    Figur 96. The two bottom menu lines are used to increase or decrease sharpness and contrast in exposures. Determining the settings is greatly a question of individual tastes.

    Custom modes

    We have now seen that a camera has lots of settings for the photographer to choose between. Some of the settings are collected in programs (scene modes), which are ready designed for use. But we can also design programs ourselves, which is a good thing. Because even though many cameras have good ergonomics with easy-to-reach buttons and easy-to-understand menus, it is a little complicated and time-consuming setting up the various exposure parameters.

    User programs are usually called custom modes, and are a couple of them are typically saved in the camera’s memory:

    Figur 97. This camera has enough room for five custom modes. (Minolta A1)

    Some cameras have a button on the camera body, which can activate the custom modes. There could, for example, be programs for studio exposures, night exposures, ISO 50 exposures, exposures with fixed infinite distance, etc. You can design your own personal scene modes in this way.

    Figur 98. The user’s settings are saved as a program and can afterwards be activated with the mode dial. (Pentax Optio 450)

    Figur 99. Here the menu system allows you to save up to eight sets of settings in each its own program, which can then be activated by the mode dial. (Olympus8080Z) 

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